Thursday, February 19, 2009

My Widow Advice #2 - Out of the Closet

Dear Carol,

I'm so grateful I found your blog. I enjoy your wit and disclosure so much. It reminds me that all that I'm feeling is "normal."

This Sunday, February 22nd wil be exactly one year since Bob passed on. He was ill for nearly two years and I don't need to get into the heartache that it caused me and our two girls (now ages 17 and 19) Bob was only 49.

I'm writing about his clothes. Friends tell me "it's time" to clean out the closet and "get rid of his stuff." I'm almost ready, but I feel that they are pressuring me. In some ways I like going into "our" closet and seeing and smelling his things near mine.

Another thing that holds me back is the practical. I really don't know what to do with Bob's shirts and ties and pants, etc. Everyone says "Donate them" but donate them where?

Thanks again for helping me to smile again.

Judith (Poor Widow Me, too)

Dear Judith (Poor Widow Me, too)

The clothes, the closet, is a tough one. Granted, your friends mean well. They want you to "move on" but I'll bet that none of them are widows.

For the first year and a half I'd walk into the closet we shared when I wanted to have a heart to heart with Jimmy. There, surrounded by his shirts ad slacks and shoes I was with him. It was far more convenient than driving to the cemetery and it wasn't necessary to stop on the way to pick up flowers.

But seriously, we long for contact, probably more so when it's the death of a young child or a spouse. They've been so physically close to us that we ache for their touch again. This is the most human part of grief, the longing for a body that we know intimately.

Clothes bring us back to that body and the body back to us. Judith, you may be "almost ready" but you aren't there yet. It sounds like you the comfort of your husband's clothes to keep him close to you. I remember standing in the closet literally shaking my head to understand that my husband didn't exist anymore to fill out those clothes. That must be a process that we need to go through.

All these moments weren't tender and longing. I'd run my fingers along the leg of the pants that I bought him months before he got sick. I'd eye the unfinished edge. He never bothered to shorten them. I'd relive how that infuriated me. His reponse made me even madder.

"I'll do it. I'll do it. Just leave me alone about it," he'd say annoyed at me.

I'd see shirts I gave him for Christmas never tried on.

"You're were so ungracious," I'd yell to the air after he died. "It was no fun to buy you stuff." Was he in the closet hearing me?

Some days I would chastise myself. Why did that still make me so angry? It's only stupid clothes and now he's not here to wear them. Other days the memory of him allowing to be so frustrated propelled me out of the closet. I'd slam the door behind me. Visit's over.

"HA. If you had been nicer about trying on stuff on I'd miss you more" I'd scream to the air.

I was embarrassed when friends gently suggested "it's time" to "do the closet" - I'd joke that I could afford to be sentimental because I didn't need the closet space.

I guess it's pretty obvious, Judith, that I understand your need to hold unto Bob's clothes. We all have symbols. This one is ours.

In the first bereavement group that I failed, a widower named Dave told us that he threw away his wife's clothes the day after her funeral. I, silently nicknamed him "Brave Dave" because as you know, this is an unpopular move among the bereaved. I watched the others cover up their horror with phony reassurance.

"Whatever is good for you is the right thing," they chanted like Stepford Wives.

Poor Brave Dave - his wife was sick for four years and there was probably not a top or a pair of pants that didn't yell out to him, "Oh, this is what she wore when we picked up her first wheelchair...and here is the outfit she had on for her last round of chemo."

He needed to make his house healthy again.

So, when you are ready I have a wonderful suggestion, something I did. Hire a seamstress to make a memory quilt from all the most familiar items, shirts, polos, pants, etc. Each square of clothing is about four or five inches and you choose a backing that represents your husband, sports, or fishing, etc.

This enables you to begin weeding out what you will eventually give away (clothing bins are in every neighborhood) You will get rid of the major part of Bob's wardrobe but you are saving forever the pattern and material that you most associate with your husband.

I surprised my daughter and son with one for each of them the second Christmas, a year and eight months after their Dad died. They keep it draped over their couch and I 'm sure they snuggle up to it when they need to be close. Your daughters will love this and if they go away to school they can take it with them.

At first I was going to have one made for me, but then thought it was too morbid. I can always see it and touch it when I visit the kids.

And, time does pass. These days, when M comes over and we get cozy on the couch I see that it would be a bit freaky to notice,

"Hey, isn't your shirt the same as the square in the quilt?"

You're almost there, Judith. Wait until you're there completely. You'll know when.

Carol - PWM